Forgiveness of mortal sin w/o priest's absolution

Hi, all.

A friend of mine just converted to Catholicism (thanks be to God!) but she posed a question to me that I couldn’t answer.

In situations where a priest is not available, can people pray an act of contrition and say a rosary for a mortal sin to be forgiven?

I told her that only a priest’s absolution can forgive a mortal sin, but she reminded me that nothing is impossible for God.

What do you think?

One can only have their mortal sins forgiven by God through His priest in Confession. However, if one can’t make it to Confession right away, then one can recite a perfect Act of Contrition, meaning sorrow on the basis of loving God above all things as we should and not wanting to offend him, and resolve to go to Confession as soon as possible. So, in that case, I guess both of you could be considered half-right, but the Confession is still necessary in the end, especially in order to receive Jesus in Holy Communion.

May God bless you and your friend! :slight_smile:

You’re friend is right, nothing is impossible for God. So, in His infinite mercy, forgiveness is possible. But, we never have the assurance that absolution is granted unless the sinner actually goes to Confession.

As has been said, truly perfect contrition is sufficient to absolve a sin here and now. But note that truly perfect contrition will compel a person toward confession, anyway, so it is not a replacement for confession. Imperfect contrition is sufficient for absolution in the confessional, perfect contrition for absolution on the way to the confessional.

Note that “an act of perfect contrition” is not the same thing necessarily as perfect contrition. It is possible to say the words meaninglessly and mechanically and derive no spiritual benefit from doing so. I do it all the time. The perfect contrition must be real – one must legitimately hate and repent of their sins simply because they are offensive to God, whom one loves with undivided heart and soul. I wonder sometimes how many of us are capable of such contrition!

The point here is that asking forgiveness for a mortal sin takes care of an emergency situation. The person is still obligated to go to confession as soon as possible. If this is an effort to avoid using confession because you don’t want to confess to a priest, it wouldn’t be valid.

Mortal sins my be forgiven via the grace of perfect contrition:


1452 When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called “perfect” (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible.51

1453 The contrition called “imperfect” (or “attrition”) is also a gift of God, a prompting of the Holy Spirit. It is born of the consideration of sin’s ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner (contrition of fear). Such a stirring of conscience can initiate an interior process which, under the prompting of grace, will be brought to completion by sacramental absolution. By itself however, imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance.52

(note too that venial sins can be forgiven in many ways…though confession of course is wonderful and recommended as a frequent practice for such).

Of course even if one is believes they have perfect contrition - normally they need to wait for Holy Communion:

1385 To respond to this invitation we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself."218 Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.

One needs to understand the difference between forgiveness and absolution.

God certainly can, and in His infinite mercy does, forgive sins at any time.

God forgives on His own authority. The priest forgives ministerially (in persona Christi).*

Absolution is a juridic act of the Church which reconciles us to God and the Church. Only a priest (with the faculties to do so) can absolve.

When we go to Confession, we are reconciled—meaning that we are both forgiven and absolved.

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